July 4, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #34 (Lilith Dark by Charles C Dowd)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?


Lilith Dark begins in medias res with its titular protagonist scaling the side of a mountain, decked out in heavy armour, hunting some yet unnamed prey. As Lilith enters a cave and whollops one of the so-called "beasties" over the head, she is forcibly dragged back to reality by her older sister and scolded for her unprovoked attack on her older brother. That's where it's revealed that everything that we've seen in the first few pages is the young Lilith adventuring around the house and projecting her imagination onto everything that she sees.

Ever since it first entered our hearts in 1985, Calvin and Hobbes has become the pinnacle representation of a child playing pretend. The only identifiable weakness, innate to its original form, is the lack of a sense of continuity outside of what we directly observe on the page. Fortunately, that is precisely the moment at which Lilith Dark picks up the baton.

From the very beginning, the relationships between Lilith and her siblings are so incredibly recognisable and feed the knowledge that this world exists far beyond these few moments that we observe. The college-age older sister, Becky, has a very recognisable air of faux-authority and reluctant responsibility; she is the age at which she believes herself too cool and sure of herself to have any time for her younger siblings. 

Conversely, the middle brother, Dewey, is in the teenage, nerdy phase where he's decided that everything that his family does is embarrassing and beating the current video game obsession is his only true measure of success. Despite this outward facade, it's clear that he still cares deeply for his irritating younger sister, as much as he refuses to admit it to himself. As the nerdy middle child myself, this portrait rings startlingly true.

Family is at the heart of stories like these, as it was in C&H, and Dowd captures the nuances of it beautifully. Each character, the protagonist included, feels three-dimensional in a way that complete casts rarely get to. They are uniquely believable representations of a family life that those of us who grew up in those surroundings recognise immediately, giving this comic the impression of a lens through which to analyse our pasts.

Lilith herself endears herself to the reader from her very first word. Dowd makes it clear with her childish syntax and self-narration that her fantasy adventure is fictitious, but that only heightens the enjoyment of the scene. Lilith has an intense curiosity and zeal for everything that she encounters and, even when the situation starts to shift into a direction that she doesn’t expect, she always retains that innate positivity in her attitude.

While Dowd’s strong grasp on body language carves out a unique posture for both of the siblings, it's the attention to detail in Lilith that makes this issue what it is. When in her standard civilian life, Lilith’s default facial expression is that of an put-upon and inconvenienced child, telling us not only what kind of child we are reading about, but revealing where else she would much rather be.

Similarly, whether the character is setting up an outer inner-monologue, sitting up in bed or discovering a wayward kitten, her emotions are always turned up to eleven. Not only does it result in a protagonist that is easy to read emotionally without the need for any dialogue, it succinctly tells us her age and her subsequent maturity.

When looking at Lilith’s adventures, it is difficult not to compare it to Calvin and Hobbes throughout, specifically the Spaceman Spiff saga. Dowd manages to make it feel unique by putting the focus on the story's wider context. Granted, Calvin and Hobbes was severely limited by its format, but the way that Dowd weaves such a familial tone into the narrative from the offset sets up the motivation for these fantastical journeys so beautifully that you're enticed to read more.

One of the best ways to tug at a reader’s heartstrings is to create a sense that your story matters. Lilith Darkness begins with an adorable protagonist on a magical journey, framed by grandiose self-narration, but then grounds her with an immediately recognisable family structure. 

This is a story destined for success. There’s such sincerity and heart to it that it’s difficult not to fall in love.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.